Ethiopian Journalist Released as Advocacy Groups Condemn Arrest, Seek Answers


Journalist Tesfalem Waldyes, the founder and editor-in-chief of Ethiopia Insider, an Ethiopian news and analysis website, was released Tuesday after spending three days in police custody.

“I just talked to him,” said Eshete Bekele, a journalist with Deutsche Welle’s Amharic service and Tesfalem’s former colleague. “He just got out,” he told VOA.

Prior to his release, Tesfalem’s colleagues and friends said his whereabouts hadn’t been known since Saturday, but federal police confirmed his detention to BBC’s Amharic service, saying there was nothing to be concerned about. The police didn’t give an explanation for the arrest or provide additional details.

Tesfalem, however, had access to a lawyer and was held for questioning at the Federal Police Commission, near Mexico Square, according to media reports.

Befeqadu Hailu, the executive director of the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy, said Tesfalem went missing after covering the Irreecha festival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Irreecha is a cultural event celebrated by Ethiopia’s ethnic Oromo community.

Befeqadu said via Twitter that Tesfalem’s plan for Sunday was to report on the festival, which also took place at a second location, Bishoftu.

The annual event is traditionally held in Bishoftu, a town located in the Oromia region, about 40 kilometers south of Addis Ababa.

After covering the event in Addis Ababa, Tesfalem posted a video on Ethiopia Insider’s Facebook page that showed attendees expressing their criticism of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.

Attendees also demanded the release of political prisoners, chanting, “Jawar, Jawar!”

Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and opposition leader, has been imprisoned, charged with terrorism and other crimes alongside other prominent Oromo politicians.

In 2014, Tesfalem was among three journalists and six bloggers, who became known as the “Zone 9 Bloggers” and were arrested for inciting violence among other charges, including terrorism. He spent more than one year in prison and was later released. Zone 9 Bloggers were recipients of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award in 2015.

The CPJ Monday condemned Tesfalem’s recent arrest.

“This is the latest in a string of attacks on the press that expose a government keen to stifle, rather than nurture, independent or dissenting coverage,” the advocacy group said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The nonprofit has documented several arbitrary arrests, attacks and the expulsion of at least one journalist in recent months.

“Is filming anti-government protesters now forbidden in the country?” asked Reporters Without Borders, another advocacy group that called for Tesfalem’s release while he was being held.

“He did nothing but his job,” RSF said in a Twitter post that also said Tesfalem was arrested while filming a demonstration.

There was no response to the latest arrest from the Abiy government.

Separately, Prime Minister Abiy was sworn in for a second term on Monday. The event comes as the national government remains engaged in a nearly year-old armed conflict with forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

Source: Voice of America

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